As record-high temperatures and heat watches and warnings exist across the state today through Monday, Governor Tom Wolf is asking all Pennsylvanians to heed advice to stay informed, aware and take precautions against heat-related illnesses. Temperatures in the 90s, combined with high humidity over the weekend, can lead to dangerous, even deadly conditions.
“Weekend routines change our travel and our outdoor activities, and we need to take these heat warnings very seriously,” Gov. Wolf said. “It’s critically important that Pennsylvanians pay attention to weather reports, heat warnings, and what the experts are telling us about heat safety.”
The Wolf Administration is urging all Pennsylvanians to take steps to keep themselves and their loved ones, including pets, safe from potentially deadly heat-related illnesses. Infants and children, older adults, and people suffering from illness may be less able to respond to extreme temperatures and taking certain medications can affect how one’s body responds to heat.
All Pennsylvanians are urged to follow these safety tips to avoid heat-related illnesses:
• Drink plenty of water and do not wait until you are thirsty to drink more fluids;
• Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar, as they can cause dehydration (loss of body fluids);
• Stay indoors in air conditioning as much as possible – this is the best way to protect against heat-related illness and death;
• Avoid long periods in the direct sun or in unventilated rooms;
• If you must be outside in the heat, reschedule activities for cooler times of the day, and try to rest often in shady areas;
• Dress in light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses – and use a sunscreen of SPF15 or higher;
• Take frequent baths or showers and remain in a cool place;
• Check on those who might be more at risk from high temperatures like infants, children, or older individuals; and
• Never leave your children or pets inside vehicles.
Pennsylvania’s network of Area Agencies on Aging is a great resource for seniors or their caregivers to find senior centers acting as cooling centers if needed and Ready.pa.gov and health.pa.gov offer tips on staying safe and comfortable during this heat wave.
“Extreme heat poses a danger to all Pennsylvanians, and we urge everyone to be aware of the potential for heat-related illnesses,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are both serious, and potentially life-threatening illnesses that can occur very quickly when high temperatures occur.”
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission provided a “Summer Heat Wave” fact sheet to provide tips on conserving energy and ensuring a cool, comfortable dwelling:
• Turn off non-essential appliances and as many lights as possible.
• Postpone using appliances that produce heat, such as clothes dryers, dishwashers and stoves until after 7 p.m. These appliances also use significant amounts of electricity adding to the demand on an electric infrastructure that is already stressed during peak hours due to heat.
• Use ceiling fans to circulate the air, keeping rooms and you cooler.
• Close curtains or window blinds to block sunlight and heat or relax in rooms that do not receive direct sunlight.
• If you have window air conditioning units, close off rooms not in use.
• Make sure all air conditioner filters are clean and in good shape.
• Replace filters monthly for maximum benefit and check air and return vents on a regular basis to keep circulation air paths clear.
• On hot and humid days, set your thermostat at 78 degrees when you are home and 85 degrees or off when you are away for long periods.
The PUC also notes that the regional power grid operator is working with utilities and power generators across the region to ensure that there are enough resources to meet demand – and the PUC is closely monitoring that. Demand is expected to peak today, but that peak is expected to be well below the available capacity.
For those who are working, employers should have a heat-illness prevention program in place that ensures workers receive plenty of water often and take frequent rest and shade breaks, trains workers to recognize symptoms of heat-related health effects, and monitors workers for signs of illness. The Department of Labor & Industry has various heat-related workplace safety resources available for employers, including a training webinar and PowerPoint, that provide guidance on working safely in higher temperatures.
The most common heat-related illnesses are heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. Warning signs include extreme body temperature, rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness and confusion. If you or loved ones develop heat stroke symptoms, get medical assistance right away. Heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and fainting.
Livestock and pet owners should take appropriate precautions to protect their animals from high temperatures that can cause them to suffer from heat-related stress and illness. Provide shade and water, postpone procedures such as vaccines or hoof trimming until weather is cooler, avoid unnecessary transportation, never leave pets in a hot car, and take pets for walks in early morning or late hours.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency is working closely with county emergency management officials in the event that state resources are needed to support efforts to keep people safe. Many counties will post information on their websites or social media accounts as cooling centers open and close. Anyone who needs specifics can call their county emergency management agency, keeping in mind that a closer location may be in a neighboring county rather than the one where they reside.
“PEMA has had our area offices reach out to counties that are under an excessive heat watch or warning to assess whether they’ve implemented their excessive heat plans and whether they have any resource gaps or unmet needs,” Randy Padfield, PEMA director said. “Philadelphia has executed a public health emergency for the heat emergency and is taking actions following their established plan. No other counties are reporting any issues at this point. No other counties have issued disaster declarations, nor are they anticipating doing so at this point, but will remain in close contact and provide updates as necessary.”
PEMA has also been in contact with all state agencies to discuss the situation and assess their preparation for the heat. Those agencies include Aging, Human Services, Health, PUC, Pennsylvania State Police and PennDOT.
“All agencies report that they are prepared,” Padfield said. “PEMA will remain in close contact and is also ready to respond as needed throughout the commonwealth.”